Contagion review

Banana Rating: 3 out of 5

It’s as I always thought. The really lethal vir­uses tar­get not just Joe Aver­age, but the Hol­ly­wood Elite. One of the film’s major stars — Gwyneth Pal­trow — cops it in the first few minutes. Ima­gine, a star like Gwinny, rich bey­ond her wild­est dreams, good-looking, mar­ried to a rock star, with per­fect off­spring whose very names provide joy and laughter to people all across the world. Con­ta­gion says, “This woman can die. A virus can kill her. Hon­estly? You don’t stand a fuck­ing chance, you loser.”

The virus seems almost polite in the way it kills. A bit of dizzi­ness, a tickly cough, and then foam specked lips, before a cam­era gets pushed up in your dead face for a wide-eyed close up. This is no overly dra­matic Ebola style virus, where blood spews from every ori­fice in great gush­ing gey­sers. There’s no Dustin Hoff­man chas­ing down a mon­key. The virus in Con­ta­gion just kills you. That’s its pur­pose. Cold, and clinical.

The story moves at a fairly slow pace, but to try to keep things inter­est­ing, we see the impact of the virus through vari­ous inter­weav­ing plot strands. We have Jude Law try­ing to be Aus­tralian, Kate Wins­let look­ing very ser­i­ous and stressed, Jen­nifer Ehle look­ing very ser­i­ous and not so stressed, Matt Damonlook­ing very ser­i­ous and con­fused, Marion Cotil­lard look­ing very ser­i­ous and heart stop­pingly beau­ti­ful, and finally, Laurence Fish­burne look­ing very ser­i­ous in a big coat.

Yes, it’s all very ser­i­ous. Whilst there’s much to admire about ded­ic­ated sci­ent­ists toil­ing to find a cure, it doesn’t always make for an excit­ing film; they’re fight­ing some­thing which is unseen. Admit­tedly, Jude Law as a blog­ger push­ing a homeo­pathic “solu­tion” to the virus, causes prob­lems. But his sleazy demean­our, and his crooked teeth, make him feel a bit car­toon­ish next to the rest of the cast.

As if Soder­bergh real­ises the audi­ence may be nod­ding off at cer­tain points, he jolts the film back to life with a pretty cool elec­tronic soundtrack that throbs like a beat­ing heart. And there are scenes which are typ­ical of thrillers where the prot­ag­on­ists must “race against time”. These tend to fizzle out rather quickly though. Plus, there’s only so much ten­sion you can wring from someone doing lab work, or talk­ing about doing lab work.

How­ever, it’s to Soderbergh’s credit that he treats the sub­ject with genu­ine respect, and doesn’t turn it into a hor­ror film like 28 Days Later. No offence to films like that, they’re great. But Contagion’s aim is to paint a more real­istic pic­ture of a virus out­break. In that regard, it suc­ceeds. The global pan­demic slowly builds like a pro­logue to a more hellishly apo­ca­lyptic sequel, with uncol­lec­ted rub­bish, and rising panic on the streets.

Con­ta­gion shows us that even if sci­ence can find a cure for such out­breaks, a new virus is prob­ably only around the corner, and the battle would start all over again. At times, it’s fas­cin­at­ing to watch. A doc­u­ment­ary, almost. But it’s prob­ably not a film I’d return to for human drama.